What Is Addiction?

Addiction is a serious problem in the United Space, affecting millions of individuals – and their friends and family members – every year. Approximately 40 million Americans struggle with an addiction to drugs, alcohol, or nicotine, indicating a significant issue plaguing teens and adults throughout the country. And, unfortunately, rates are only on the rise. Heroin deaths, for example, are up 45% over the last decade, reaching near-epidemic proportions in the U.S. This is certainly distressing, especially with the increase in related overdose deaths. However, categorizing, identifying, and appropriately addressing addiction isn’t as clear-cut as it sounds.

The term “addiction” refers to a mental, physical, or combined attachment to a substance or activity. In many cases, the process of addiction influences the structure of the brain, changing the ways in which the body responds to pleasurable neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. After extended use and changes in the brain’s chemistry, the body will require access to substances or feel-good triggers to stimulate positive emotions.

Take heroin, for example. An immensely powerful drug that triggers euphoric feelings users claim cannot compare to anything else, taking a dose of heroin results in molecules bonding to the opioid receptors in the brain. This change decreases the body’s perception of pain and elevates mood through an increased level of dopamine. Experts estimate that the amount of dopamine released while using heroin may be as much as 10 times the amount produced normally in periods of significant pleasure.

Despite the stigmas associated with use, addiction is a chronic disease with no cure, not a moral failing.

What Substances Are Addictive?

Many people assume that drugs, alcohol, and nicotine are the limits of addiction, but this is far from the truth. In actuality, many substances or activities can be addictive, including countless consumables and hobbies that are fully legal.

Drugs and alcohol do make up a majority of addiction cases, affecting 24 million Americans. Nicotine, a legal chemical substance found in cigarettes, cigars, and chewing tobacco, is also a major contributor to addiction. In fact, more people are addicted to nicotine than any other drug.

Food is also a common addiction; roughly 2.8% of individuals suffer from binge eating disorder, a condition that can be extremely hard to treat as food is an essential part of life. As such, binge eating is considered an eating disorder akin to anorexia and bulimia.

Common pleasurable activities, like gambling, shopping, and sex, can also be addictive. While presentation of these conditions is quite limited – gambling, for example, is limited to approximately 3% of those who have tried gambling – the associated issues are quite serious. Addictive substances do not need to be illegal or put participants in danger of overdose to significantly compromise quality of life.

What Are the Signs of Addiction?

Addiction can frequently be detected through the presence of signs and symptoms of use. Some are present in virtually all cases of addiction, while some are substance-dependent. In general, addicts show numerous signs; the presence of a just a few side effects can be indicative of abusive habits or a high risk use that may eventually result in addiction. Addiction is characterized generally by the three Cs:

  • Loss of control over the amount used
  • Cravings and compulsive use
  • Continued use despite adverse responses

More specific indicators of addiction can often be divided into three main categories: physical, behavioral, and emotional.

Physical signs refer to changes that manifest in the body and are visible from the outside and commonly include:

  • Over-activity or lethargy, depending on the drug
  • Erratic speech patterns
  • Dilated pupils or red eyes
  • Sniffing or runny nose unrelated to a cold
  • Pale, cold, or clammy skin
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Change in eating habits
  • Change in hygiene, including body odor or decreased self-care

Behavioral side effects, on the other hand, are related to changes to how individuals act like:

  • Skipping school or work
  • Performance problems at school or work
  • Skipping appointments or other important engagements
  • Secretive behavior and lying about activities
  • Erratic sleep patterns
  • Relationship or marital problems
  • Financial recklessness or hidden spending
  • Legal problems
  • Fixation on substance use

The last category of symptoms – emotional signs – refers to the mood and outward emotions demonstrated by those who are suffering from an addiction. Common emotional effects include:

  • Irritability, argumentativeness, and defensiveness
  • Trouble handling stress
  • Loss of interest in previously-enjoyed activities
  • Obnoxious, silly, or erratic behavior
  • Confusion
  • Minimization and rationalization of accusations related to abuse
  • Blaming others for poor behavior
  • Compromised judgment

How to Respond to Addiction

Addiction is rarely a battle best fought alone. While it is theoretically possible to make it through detox solo, overcoming addiction is most effectively accomplished with the support, love, and guidance of friends and family in addition to professional assistance.

Navigating the rough roads immediately after terminating use can be extremely complex. In the case of some drugs, withdrawal can be dangerous in addition to mentally and physically taxing, creating a serious situation in need of medical attention. In a treatment center, these side effects can be controlled and monitored in a supportive, safe atmosphere, best increasing your likelihood of success.

If you or someone you love is struggling with the effects of substance abuse, help is here. Please contact us at 855-535-8501 to learn more.